NEW YORK — A huge majority of Americans view Iran’s nuclear program as a “critical threat,” alongside the North Korean nuclear program and “international terrorism,” according to a poll released Monday.
The Gallup poll found that 99 percent of Americans believe the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program is a threat “to the vital interests of the United States in the next 10 years,” with 83% saying it was a “critical threat” and another 16% saying it was an “important, [but] not critical” one. Just 1% declined to say it was at least an important threat.
The poll was conducted February 7-10 among 1,015 respondents aged 18 and older. It has a margin of error of 4%.
The poll asked respondents to comment on nine possible threats. Iranian nuclear weapons generated the most concern, though only by the slimmest of margins.
North Korean nuclear weapons garnered nearly identical levels of concern, with 83% calling them a “critical threat” and 14% an “important” one, though these answers came before last week’s nuclear test by the communist regime.
“International terrorism” rounded out the three leading threats perceived by the American public, with 81% and 17% calling it a “critical” and “important” threat, respectively. The remaining threats included Islamic fundamentalism (53%-28%), China’s economic and military power (52%-39%), the military power of Russia (29%-53%) and the conflict between India and Pakistan (25%-55%).
The widest gap by party affiliation related to the perception of the threat from Islamic fundamentalism, with 70% of Republicans saying it was a critical threat, compared to 46% of Democrats.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has continued to decline as a perceived threat, with 44% of those polled saying it was a “critical threat” to US interests, a drop from 58% in a 2004 poll. Forty-four percent said the conflict was an “important” threat, and 9% said it was not important.
Islamic fundamentalism and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict both ranked lower as threats among the young compared with older Americans. Among Americans under 34 years old, just 35% said Islamic fundamentalism was a critical threat, compared with 64% among those 55 and older. When it came to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 32% of the young saw it as a critical threat, compared to 54% of those over 55.
According to Gallup, “this year’s poll marked the first time Gallup asked about North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons specifically. In 2010 Gallup asked about the two countries’ ‘military power,’ and found 61% rating each as a critical threat to the United States, second only to international terrorism. In 2004, the ‘spread of weapons of mass destruction to unfriendly powers’ ranked second only to terrorism. Thus, Americans have previously seen North Korea and Iran, and nuclear weapons in general, as serious threats to the US.”
The findings on American perception of Iran correspond to other polling in recent years. A Gallup poll conducted in early February 2012 asked Americans whom they considered to be the United States’ “greatest enemy today.” The question was open-ended. Nearly one-third, or 32%, named Iran — more than any other country.
“The high level of concern Americans give to North Korea, as well as to Iran and to international terrorism, suggest these are areas on which the public would like the Obama administration and its new foreign policy team to focus its efforts,” Gallup noted.